Future Ruins


“Every room gives us layers of information about our past and present and who we are, our shrines and quirks and hopes and sorrows, our attempts to prove that we exist and are more or less okay…….these rooms are future ruins.” Anne Lamott

There is something about ruins that I’m attracted to. While driving through the countryside of France we stumbled upon very old buildings in varying stages of decay. Some were in the process of being restored, some were left to slowly fall apart. If there was room to stop and catch a photo, we did. If there was a road we could take to get a closer look we took it.

It’s so different here in America. First of all our buildings are just not that old, our country isn’t even that old. Secondly, we have all these safety codes and fear of lawsuits so the minute something starts to decay we tear it down. I think we are missing something important when we do that. Like the way we rush people off to the hospital to die where only a spouse or adult child can see what death really looks like. We keep up the Hollywood facade that there is only life here, only new buildings and future adventures.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to see new construction going up. I look forward to watching the remodel completed and the exterior repainted. But I was fascinated by every structure that had ancient stones still clinging together and curious about the stories held inside. The phrase ‘If these walls could talk’ takes on a whole new meaning for me now. Our family is the only family that has lived in our current house, our previous house has it’s third family living in it now.

A few others from our past may have as many as 10 different family stories hidden in it’s walls. But these places, they could have had generation after generation living in them. I want to know the stories. Even if I got to know someone in one of these remote villages, I’m certain there is too much to know. I’m certain there is no one alive who can even begin to tell the story of most of these places.

I think about my own family and how so many of my Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles have died taking their secrets with them. Only part of the story is retold. I wonder about the rest of it.

These days I scurry about furnishing, arranging (and rearranging), cleaning and decorating this house but someday all this stuff will be sifted through and only a small remnant will be kept by a few who knew us and knows the story behind the objects. I have very few things that used to belong to my Grandparents and many of them hold stories I have already forgotten or never knew.

These rooms, filled with all this stuff and all those memories are just future ruins. So many of the things I stress about don’t seem to matter at this moment. The only things that will survive the next couple of generations will be their stories (if they are told or written down) and the ripple affect of the choices we make in relationships.

Our children will relate to their spouses (if they have them) and their children (if they have them) in reaction and response to how we have related to them. Yesterday I wrote about a story my Grandmother told me from her childhood. Putting aside how accurate her memory of those events may or may not have been, I’m aware of how her choices (to get married at 14, toughen up and refuse to cry in front of her husband when he hurt her to spite her father) and how they have affected me through my mother and all my Aunts and Uncles (and their children). The stories are so intertwined, such a tangled beautiful mess.

It’s really strange but thinking of all of this in the context of what will be left standing in two or three hundred years from now, really helps me relax a little. I just do not have the kind of power it takes to make that all work out well. I can’t even make this years Thanksgiving weekend turn out well, what makes me think I can affect the lives of future generations in profound ways?!

These two words ‘Future Ruins’ both haunt me and free me. I want to remember them and live out the story while I exist.


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